These Kids Today... (Spoiler Alert: “Are Awesome!”)
By Mike Carruth
We hear all the time, how kids don’t want to play outside anymore, and just want to sit, slack-jawed, behind a gaming controller, in air-conditioned comfort, with mom on call for PB&J (with the crusts cut off).
OK, maybe SOME of that, on some days. But the bottom line is that when provided the opportunity to get out there, and get active, it’s not too hard of a sell—especially when it involves riding bikes.
The old saying goes “you never forget how to ride a bike.” We could easily change that generational truth to read, “you never forget how IT FEELS to ride a bike” and we would be just as accurate. The wind in one’s face. The bursts of speed. The freedom of going where YOU want the vehicle to go. For a kid, there is no substitute.
It’s true that bicycle riding among kids 12-under had fallen considerably in the years leading up to 2020, but COVID-19 changed all that, in an unexpectedly-positive way. Suddenly, bicycle riding was one of the only outdoor activities that families could do together, as soccer pitches, baseball diamonds and football gridirons all fell silent.
The United States has experienced a “Bike Boom” unlike any seen since the 1970s, and local bike shops—once clawing their way from payroll to payroll—now have “dibs” deposits for bikes well-into 2022, as global supply chains strain to keep up.
BMX LEAGUE FOR BEGINNERS BOOMS WITH BIKES
Here in Napa, Olympic Medalist, Donny Robinson (BMX Racing, 2008) has seen unprecedented, and nationally-acclaimed participation in his beginners-only “BMX League” program, run at North Bay BMX in Kennedy Park.
In each of five sessions, the League features instruction, which teaches fundamental bike handling skills, and valuable life lessons like goal-setting, dusting-off and getting back on the bike in those rare instances when you fall, and “listening” skills, as riders receive their lessons from Coach Donny.
After a mid-session snack break, the riders line up in their age-appropriate groups, and race a four-start-four-finish race. Points are accrued each lap, toward a season-end trophy.
And while all riders in the League earn a trophy, there are no “participation trophies” here. First, Second and Third places over the five weeks earn a “podium award,” while fourth through eighth place earn a “progression award,” that recognizes and rewards the individual achievement of the racers.
The “individual” aspect of BMX Racing is one that parents (and their riders) find very appealing. Each rider goes at their own pace and ability. Everyone “plays,” every time, in this League.
Robinson gives us insight into the impact the League has on kids and their families. “It’s heartwarming to hear a mom talk about her family’s experience, with tears of joy in her eyes, now that her son or daughter has finally found their ‘thing.’ And, then have a nearby dad chime in that they tried every sport under the sun, but BMX Racing has been the activity that has his kids keep asking ‘how many more days til BMX?’”
After retiring from competition in 2016, Robinson has made it his life’s work to bring the sport he loves, and gave him so much, to families across the country.
His now-trademarked rallying cry “Let’s Get Kids Back On Bikes” has brought thousands of families closer together, and untold numbers of new friendships and improved school grades as a result of his efforts, and those of volunteers at dozens of BMX tracks.
Riding bikes is the fun part, of course, but it is just as much about teaching young people the values that got him to the highest stage in sports.
In a recent interview Donny told us, “Every week, we see kids breaking through their fears and gaining confidence that they use to build from. That shows up off the bike, in ways that parents never thought possible.”
And he is just getting started. The Late-Summer season of his Napa BMX League is in the final stages of enrollment, and a fall season will soon be announced. But his eyes are set on growing the program beyond Napa Valley, with the dream being a network of beginner-level tracks dotting the map.
“There are so many families who don’t have ready-access to a program like this—whether due to their location or financial situation. I want to bring the program closer to those families, so they can experience all the positives we deliver here in Napa,” Robinson told us in a phone interview.
That has been slow in coming, mostly due to his heavy commitments here. But connections are being made, and municipalities, private foundations, schools and community organizations are starting to take notice, reaching out to see how they can get in on the action.
He leaves us with some important thoughts on “these kids today,” based on his five years of running the League program, and in his decades of prior experience
running camps and clinics for more experienced racers:
“Kids today are awesome...but they don’t usually go out and ride with their friends ‘til the street lights come on,’ like prior generations did. They need parental guidance to sign up and get here. Once they’re here (at the BMX Track), the bike pretty much does the rest. Come see ‘How Far Two Wheels Can Take You!’”
For more information on the upcoming seasons of the Napa BMX League, visit